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Alaska could see more dangerous thunderstorms as Arctic sea ice melts and evaporation increases

Morgan Krakow, Anchorage Daily News on

Published in News & Features

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Thunderstorm frequency could triple in Alaska by the end of the century because of ongoing climate change, according to new research.

Big thunderstorms, the kind that produce lots of rain, are not common in Alaska now. Some 30 occur in the state every year, said Andreas Prein, a research scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who worked on the two papers, published in Climate Dynamics.

But the papers say melting sea ice could lead to more frequent thunderstorms across the state, with potentially devastating effects such as heavier rainfall and flash flooding, landslides and more wildfires sparked by lightning.

“The consequences could be manifold,” Prein said.

The cause of the more frequent thunderstorms is linked to a continued loss of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, according to the research.

Sea ice keeps the water below it from evaporating, essentially sealing it in. But as that ice continues to recede, larger tracts of ocean will be uncovered, which would lead to more moisture in the atmosphere and over Alaska.

 

That moisture feeds thunderstorms, Prein said.

The greatest increase in frequency of storms is likely to occur in the central part of the state, Prein said.

But also alarming is the potential in certain places, like parts of the North Slope that don’t get thunderstorms, to begin seeing them as well, according to Maria Molina, a research scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research who worked on the second study.

It’s important to not get hung up on the exact number of storms that could occur, said Andrew Newman, a project scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who worked on the first of the two papers. Rather, the research shows that such extreme events are likely to happen more frequently.

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